Brian's Reviews > The Pregnant Widow

The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
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's review
Aug 05, 11

First, I have not read a Martin Amis book before, but understand he has a billionity or so (OK 11) previous novels. He is obviously a very technically capable writer, very well read, and there are times where his sense of wit and humor shine through.

The book is essentially set up as the recollections of a man in his 50s who was shaped by a particular summer he spent in Italy in 1970, at the beginning (or at least his beginning) of the sexual revolution. The women in the book are characterized by their reaction to the change in women's roles with respect to sexuality, ranging from the more traditional, to those that half heartedly embrace their new found promiscuity as power, to a couple who seem to be deeply troubled but seemingly thrive in their new found roles as sexual aggressors. Our protagonist Keith, is always reading some classic British novel (Austen, Hardy, DH Lawrence, Thackeray, Bronte, Maugham) and thus we get this constant dialogue and thought which juxtaposes the classic female role model and the mini morality plays of many of the books from this era with the characters surrounding Keith and their new modern morality. (Spoiler alert... turns out the consequences aren't that different.)

My issues with the book are two-fold. One, the character development is really uneven. I believe the protagonist, Keith Nearing, is fairly well sketched out, but with the exception of one of the female characters, they seem little more than mannequins who wear a certain role in the narrative. One woman (with an unpronounceable difficult to remember name) I literally started thinking of with the moniker "boobs" because this seemed to be her sole characteristic. Further, as you read on in the book, some characters, that seem little more than window dressing, turn out to be fairly important in the grand scheme of the protagonists life, but without any real basis to understand who these people are, it requires a real leap of faith to care.

This brings me to issue two. Martin spends most of the length of the novel relaying the happenings and his inner most thoughts, feelings and desires in that all important summer. However, the last quarter of the book or so fast forwards from that summer through to present day. I found the last quarter in some ways more important than the summer piece, but it seemed either rushed, or too short. I wonder if this wasn't to be a much longer novel, but either editing or a deadline got in the way. What is there is compelling, and important to the protagonist’s life story, but for me it negatively affected the pacing of the book, and thus mitigated my enjoyment of it.

The aspect of the novel I found most impactful were the parts where we see Keith actually contemplate his own sense of self, and where we see his reaction to the people around him, especially how this evolves (or in some cases devolves) over time. I suppose one could say that most of the action within this book is not from outward influences, but from the self actualization we see within the protagonist, both as a youth, and then through later stages of life. In this sense it is a very solipsistic novel. Some of these sections (indeed the opening of chapter of the novel) I found extremely insightful, hilarious, in some cases naive, and in other cases cynical, but always convincing, and thought provoking.

I am not sure I will read another novel by Martin Ames, but given its setting and topic, it wasn't a bad way for me to kick off my summer reading.


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